On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right. Now, the thirteen states that had bans on gay marriage—Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Tennessee—must recognize these unions.
What can we expect from this decision? For one, more weddings and more cake.
Hoping to be the go-to source for a new flood of customers is WeddingWire, a wedding-planning company based in the DC metro area. Just a few weeks before the monumental decision, WeddingWire purchased GayWeddings.com, a service site for gay couples planning their weddings.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman spoke with Timothy Chi, CEO and co-founder of WeddingWire, about his company’s acquisition of GayWeddings.com, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s historic decision on the wedding industry.
The following text has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. You can also watch last Thursday’s Making Sen$e segment on how legalization of gay marriage will likely create a financial boost for the wedding industry and the broader economy.
—Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
Paul Solman: Can you tell me about the decision to acquire GayWeddings.com in June?
Timothy Chi: So the acquisition of GayWeddings.com really started four years ago when we partnered with GayWeddings.com. We partnered with them simply because we felt like it was the right thing to do. Kathryn Hamm, the president of GayWeddings.com, came to us and said, “Guys, I’ve been working on this for a really long time. Let me tell you about my journey.” We told her that we’d love to partner with her and help bring GayWeddings.com to a more national platform. Why wouldn’t we do this? Marriage equality is something we have believed in and have been involved with since starting the company. And having a partner, advocate, and thought leader four or five years ago was key to helping us understand how we as an organization could better support the LGBT community.
In purchasing GayWeddings.com, we were thinking about how we could be an integral part of the LGBT community. I think it’s one thing to stand there and say, “we support it, we support it.” It’s another thing to put your money where your mouth is and say, “No, we support it in a very meaningful way.”
Paul Solman: Was the timing of the acquisition just serendipitous or was it intentional?
Timothy Chi: The timing of the acquisition was serendipitous. We had been talking for a while about ways we could continue to work closely together. June ended up being the time when an acquisition made the most sense. Obviously, we didn’t know this was happening at the time of the transaction. And quite frankly, it didn’t matter to us. It was the right move for both parties. So whether the Supreme Court ruled one way or another, it wouldn’t have changed our rationale for getting closer with GayWeddings.com.
Paul Solman: Do you see the Supreme Court decision changing or impacting this business going forward?
Timothy Chi: We’ve generally found that the wedding marketplace spoke about two years ago. We often look at general consumer sentiment for the support of same-sex marriage, which is currently around 60 to 70 percent. We also looked at the sentiment for engaged couples and their support for same-sex marriages, which is in the 70 percent range. The one that was really neat for us was the support for same-sex marriage among marriage professionals. Just to give you a little more background, in March of 2011, when we first forged the official relationship with gayweddings.com, there were about 20,000 wedding professionals that opted in and said, “I support same-sex marriage.” That number today is over 120,000, and over 86 percent of WeddingWire vendors have stated that they are ready and willing to serve same sex couples. And so, we think the market spoke two years ago, and it was probably more closely tied to when DOMA was overturned. The ruling last week was just a further underscoring that the marketplace has spoken.
Paul Solman: Have wedding ceremonies been going on for quite a while in these states where same-sex marriage is now newly legal?
Timothy Chi: In the states where bans were in place, same-sex couples have been forging marriage by traveling out of state or by just waiting. I think it’s a combination of both. Is there pent up demand for marriage in certain states? There probably is. There must be many couples who have been disenfranchised with this idea that they have to go out of state to be married. Now they are able to make it happen in state.
Paul Solman: What is the process of spending and planning on a wedding? Does it differ very much between same-sex or hetero couples?
Timothy Chi: We’ve conducted some surveys recently around same-sex marriages in relation to non-LGBTQ weddings. What we’ve found is that the general framework around which a wedding gets planned is actually very similar. Everyone needs a budget. The timeline, the way that event itself gets planned and executed, lines up really well across the board. Where the differences come in is among traditions, trends, and rituals. And that is where the difference manifests itself right now. If you are a straight couple getting married, while you want your wedding to be a unique, personalized, bespoke celebration, you might enter with the mindset that tradition is your framework. The bride walks down the aisle, for example. Same-sex couples didn’t have tradition to rely on. And because of that they needed to forge and create their own ways of expression. And it’s that individual expression of two people coming together without having tradition as a backdrop where we’ve started to see a lot of new and cool trends emerge. On one hand, there is a lot of similarity on the wedding-planning side, but what actually happens on the day of the ritual can be very different and unique.
Paul Solman: What are some of those trends that you’ve seen? And do you see them spilling over?
Timothy Chi: Yeah, we’ve started to see some of these trends spill over. From a research perspective, one of the things historically that I’ve always seen is that you have your bride party and your groom party. Today, we’re seeing a lot more mixed bridal parties, where it might be both men and women on either side. Also, same sex marriages tended to be a little larger with more people participating. I think we’re starting to see a little bit of that bleed over too.
One of our favorite stories recently was of a couple who were both soccer fans. They were trying to decide whose last name to take. And because they were both soccer fans, they had both families play a soccer match the day before the wedding to see which family won and whose name they would take. Spoil alert, it ended up in a 1-1 tie, and they left the decision to another day.
Paul Solman: More than 86 percent of your vendors say that they work with same-sex venders. Will there continue to be the option for vendors to say, “I don’t work with same-sex couples?”
Timothy Chi: The way the participation works right now is that vendors can opt in. And it’s great to see that the overwhelming majority of wedding professionals already raised their hands and said, “I support same sex marriage.” It’s not something that we’re forcing on anyone at this point. The way that things are shaping up, in terms of who supports same-sex marriage and how it is happening, is still at the state level. So there is still a lot of work to be done on that front. For us, at the end of the day, WeddingWire is about inclusivity across the board. One of the reasons why we have been able to grow so fast and pair with gayweddings.com is that we’re laser focused on the core mission of helping engaged couples plan that special day independent of sexual-orientation, religion, race and faith.
Paul Solman: Kathryn continues to be the publisher of GayWeddings.com, as well as an education specialist for the company. What kind of education is there to be done for vendors working for same-sex couples?
Timothy Chi: In 2011, we had our first annual WeddingWire world conference. Last year alone probably 1,300 to 1,500 wedding professionals came to join us for a day and a half of learning. The education work that needs to be done is very important, and we’ve always wanted Kathryn Hamm on the main stage providing that education.
So what is that education? Just because the bans have lifted doesn’t mean that a photographer is best suited to shoot a same-sex marriage. There needs to be education about how to best do that, and Kathryn has actually written a book about just that. If you’re entering with the mindset that it’s just like shooting a straight-couple wedding, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Who walks down the aisle first? How do you pose two groom parties? There’s a lot of considerations to be made. Ultimately, it’s about educating wedding professionals to truly understand how to address the needs of two individuals without tradition as a backdrop.
Paul Solman: Do you see there continuing to be two separate wedding marketplaces?
Timothy Chi: Right now were very glad that GayWeddings.com is a separate entity. It’s a very tailored and customized site for LGBTQ audiences. However, that’s not the ultimate goal. The goal is inclusivity across our entire platform. We’ve made many strides in the past four or five years around that. For instance, today, even in signing up for weddingwire.com you can choose your avatar as groom-groom, bride-bride. The way that our tools are set up for budget planning are very customizable. It doesn’t presume you’re going to spend in a certain way. We will continue to invest in our platform in a way that really speaks toward inclusivity across the board.